The Lib Dem candidate for Berwick will welcome senior party colleague Tim Farron to north Northumberland on Thursday to back her campaign and support her calls for a Countryside Charter.
Mr Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale in Cumbria, is currently the party’s foreign affairs spokesman, but has a close interest in rural issues as the MP for an area including much of the Lake District and he is the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on hill farming.
While some farmers are reporting a good crop of lambs, decent farmgate prices and profitability do not necessarily follow. Recent figures from the Farm Business Income Survey have found that hill farmers only earn an average of £14,500 (from a low of just £5,000 in 2010) – a salary that includes recompense, capital in business and working hours contributed by the family.
Mr Farron said: “I’m pleased to be visiting Northumberland with Julie Pörksen, who I know will make a fantastic MP. Sir Alan Beith was well respected in Parliament for his support for Northumberland farmers and the rural economy, and I learnt much from him as a new MP. It’s great to be able to return that favour by coming to back Julie’s efforts to support upland farmers in Northumberland. I very much look forward to her becoming a member of the All Party Parliamentary Hill Farming Group after May 7.”
Ms Pörksen said: “I am delighted Tim is visiting to support my campaign. He is a tremendous campaigner and is a hugely popular figure in his constituency. I’m particularly pleased he will be joining me to discuss how he’s worked to support upland farming in Cumbria as an MP.
“Hill farmers do extremely important work to sustain both our rural economy and our beautiful Northumbrian landscape, and I want to ensure that the Countryside Charter helps as many local farmers and farm businesses as possible. In particular, I am concerned that local farmers need additional help to access broadband to ensure that they are able to take advantage of the RPA’s digital payment systems.”
The Countryside Charter is a package of national Liberal Democrat policy proposals to help the countryside and allow the rural economy to thrive. It includes plans to extend high-speed broadband to 99.9 per cent of households, continuing the 5p-a-litre fuel discount scheme for remote rural areas in Northumberland, planning reforms to facilitate supply of business start-up accommodation, boosting supply of rural housing, and introducing a Rural Bus Protection Fund.
The Lib Dem proposals will allow local authorities to introduce a 200 per cent council-tax rate on second homes where this has a serious impact on local housing affordability, and Ms Pörksen is calling for the extra revenue raised being earmarked for spending to boost local economies at parish and town-council level.
The Charter also includes plans for boosting rural tourism, including completing the round-Britain coastal path and introducing new National Nature Parks, a commitment to protect the interests of the inshore small-boat fishing fleet, and more help to support local community assets such as rural pubs, schools, shops and post offices.
It also announces steps to secure the future of the farming industry, by boosting the powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator so that all farmers, especially the dairy industry, are paid fairly; publishing a National Food Strategy; reducing the administrative and regulatory burden; and developing an Animal Disease Strategy to lessen the risks and costs of animal disease.